Box CEO Aaron Levie hit the ground running in London this week, launching into an energetic pitch to a room full of CIOs about why Box is the vendor that could help deliver a single source of truth for content in the SaaS enterprise.
I know content doesn’t sound particularly ‘sexy’, but if you think about it within the context of what’s happening in the enterprise technology market, and within the framework of aiming for a frictionless enterprise, I think Box becomes quite compelling.
There are a number of factors at play here.
Firstly, sophisticated digital buyers - ones that are not only focused on technology, but also new ways of working - no longer put all their eggs into one basket. The days of buying a full enterprise suite, from hardware to software, in the cloud or not, are dwindling. Instead, enterprises want to be able to buy best-of-breed cloud technologies and to have all of them integrate seamlessly. There’s room for multiple cloud platforms in the enterprise and vendors are being forced to play nice.
Secondly, the four walls of the enterprise have no reason to exist anymore. And by that I mean both the four walls of each individual department and the four walls of the broader company. If enterprises want to fully take advantage of ‘digital’, then they need to adopt collaborative tools and approaches, make use of automated workflows and try and recognise that boundaries are an inhibitor to growth. Whilst this is partly a technology problem, it’s also an institutional and cultural problem. Changing the way you operate is hard. Necessary, but hard. It’s necessary because it allows ideas to flow, it means communication internally and externally isn’t restricted, working becomes agile, and you aren’t limited by geography.
Thirdly, buyers are shifting systems to the cloud partly because the security is better. They can’t invest at a quick enough pace to keep up with new baseline regulations (e.g. GDPR).
If you combine all of these, you can see why a single source of truth for content in the cloud, one that integrates with your other cloud platforms and tools, may become important. And that’s Box’s aim - a content platform that is API-enabled, so that it can not only deliver its own applications, but also integrate with third party vendors (e.g. Slack, Salesforce, G-Suite), and allow users to build their own tools on top too. It is underpinned by a security layer that enforces policies, compliance, local regulations etc, and is also fully searchable. Box states that it makes use of AI and machine learning, and can also easily allow for the introduction of optimised workflows.
The idea being that Box can move you from individual productivity (working in isolation, maybe sharing some content here and there) to intelligent business processing (an integrated platform, with content accessible anywhere, at anytime, and powered by intelligent workflow automation). See the images below for a visual explanation of this.
Why does this matter? Let’s say the sales team needs some information from the marketing department. Or customer services needs some information from production. The old way of working would be trawling emails, folders, or trying to find the right person to answer your question. The new world would allow you to search an integrated platform, access content from a variety of other sources, and then be supported by intelligent workflows (as my colleague Phil explains it - “a framework for sharing and tracking progress towards the intended outcome of collaboration).
Essentially, Box is piecing together the building blocks for a compelling content platform for the modern, digital enterprise. This week, Levie said:
So you have one source of truth for content that can integrate and extend into any other app or service within the organization. So this is what we focus on as a company. And this is what Box is focused on in terms of delivering on this platform. And why this is so powerful, is it gives you the freedom of choice of what happens at the application layer, around the mobility of your data.”
Our job is to make sure that we can help abstract and ensure a more seamless environment for being able to do business globally, as the world gets more complex.
Digital means a different kind of stack
Levie is smart in his approach to integration at Box, an area the company has fuelled a lot of energy and investment. It currently integrates with 1,400+ other services and is a differentiator in this market. This is important because an enterprise’s content isn’t going to sit in one system, it will reside over many. This is coupled with the fact that organisations that are investing heavily in the cloud aren’t typically going all-in on one vendor - they’re integrating a number of best-of-breed platforms, as noted above. Levie explained:
In the digital age, I think [enterprises are going to have] more of a web of application systems that connect to one another. So our job is just to ensure that we're connecting your content to any of the applications that you're using, whether it's Slack, or Okta, or Salesforce, or Office365, or G-Suite. We don’t necessarily want to be at the centre of everything, but to ensure that you can get your content wherever you're working from.
No one company is going to be at the centre of everything, but we're all going to work together to make sure that we can deliver an IT environment and a set of connected applications that help our customers be successful. I think our job is to make sure that customers see the value of having one source of truth for content.
Whilst Box isn’t necessarily interested in being at the “centre” of everything, Levie does believe that a collaborative tool like Box can help drive the culture change required to enable a frictionless enterprise. As we’ve noted time and time again, it’s not enough to put the tools in place and hope the organisation comes with you. A different way of working and operating is required to fully take advantage of being ‘frictionless’ - siloes need to be removed. Levie argues that collaborative tools are an enabler of that change. He said:
I think, from what we've seen, where customers have been really successful in driving that kind of change, is when they focus on the impact that is going to improve as many employee experiences as possible, early on.
And this is why products like Zoom, or products like Slack, or products, frankly, like Box, are powerful in that type of transformation. Because very quickly, the culture of the organisation can change. And you can start to see what work would look like if we can collaborate in real time.
It tends to be pretty symbolic, because the workplace starts to then build momentum around driving digital transformation.
I’ll admit that I went into this event with quite low expectations, naively thinking that Box was useful for file sharing, but not necessarily an influencing platform in driving digital change in the enterprise. And it’s fair to say that there are other vendors in this space (e.g. Dropbox and Slack) that are pursuing a similar path. I was, however, impressed. Levie’s pitch, and Box’s focus on and its understanding of the enterprise environment, was compelling.
That said, there are two areas where the company could benefit from developing more work. First, if Box wants to be one of the key components in a multi-SaaS enterprise environment, it’s not enough to just understand the technology piece. It also needs to become an authority on how it can help companies get from A to B, in terms of frictionless enterprise and culture change. There was a bit of that, but I’d like to see more thoughtful advice on how Box can help enable it.
Second, and related to the above, when I asked Levie about Box’s partner ecosystem (talking system integrators, not partner integrations), his response was that it’s an “emerging trend” and is becoming more “consistent”. This is important because this is often how enterprises buy and Box needs to be an authoritative component in that landscape.
However, overall, from what I can tell, it looks like Box has a strong proposition and one that looks set to become even more interesting over the next couple of years.